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Archive for March, 2008

I hear there are bloggers out there who post, I dunno, a few times a week, every day, several times a day, but let’s be honest — as much as I may try, I’m no Perez Hilton. (It’s taken some time and support of friends to come to terms with this undeniable fact.) I’ve made the reasonable deal with myself to post once a week, you know, -ish. But sometimes, cilantro news comes to light and you (I) realize it is only really you (me) who can properly address the issue. And so it is that I have to act now; I wouldn’t be doing my cilantro-hating duty otherwise.

I Hate Cilantro.com, my friend and nemesis (these things are never simple) seems to be out of order, or under construction, or – I dont’ know – folding. This is what it looks like as of 2:49pm EST, 3/27/2008:

And it’s looked this way since at least early yesterday. I don’t know what’s going on, but I can tell you I don’t like it one bit. I cannot bare the literary/web burden of cilantro hate alone; I need ihatecilantro.com back. What I’m hoping is they’re going for a site redesign/revamp — they hadn’t updated their “news” since September — and will be back bigger and better than ever. While I’m not a member of their clan, I do love what they do, the multiplicity of voices they add to the truly infinite diversity that is cilantro hate.

And so, in this uncharacteristic spirit of pseudo news, frequent Perez-style posting, I’ll keep this post short and I’ll leave you with this amazing image.



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Totally Generic Grocery Store Checkout Girl: This is flat leaf parsley, right?

Cilantro-Loving Birthday Friend: Uh (rolls eyes), no; this is cilantro.

TGGSCG: Right.

~

This is the scene that had taken place in a local grocery store mere hours before my friend’s annual birthday brunch this Saturday past.

We had chilaquiles. We had fresh fruit with chili/cinnamon whipped cream. We had rugelach. We had lots of Champagne. We had, you know, a good time.

Chilaquiles (is/are?) a new dish for me. But like so many things, the moment you become familiar with the thing, the thing is everywhere — how did I not encounter these marvelous, mysterious chilaquiles before? I had my first set last weekend during a lazy, rainy Saturday brunch with a couple of friends. I had my second set at my friend’s birthday brunch on Saturday. Both were very different, both were very delicious and both, surprisingly enough, were cilantro-free.

Chilaquiles, if you aren’t familiar, involve stale corn tortillas, fried and simmered in a somewhat spicy green or red sauce then topped with things. Those things generally include queso fresca, crema, chicken and/or eggs and herbs (read cilantro). The whole dish is often served with refried beans. Variations are obviously limitless; what’s essential is the fried tortilla simmered in sauce part.

My first set of chilaquiles came from an (at least somewhat) authentic Mexican joint, so I’ll attribute the cilantro-free status of their chilaquile salsa verde to divine providence — there is simply no other way to explain such a thing. My second set of chilaquiles — the birthday brunch chilaquiles — now that’s a different story. Or is it…

As I was helping in the final stages of prepping the birthday brunch to end all birthday brunches — I’m telling you: it was great — I noticed a big bag full of green shit. And what I mean is I saw a big bag of cilantro.

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Erin: Uh, Cilantro-Loving Birthday Friend?

CLBF: Yes, Erin

Erin: What’s the meaning of this? (points to big bag full of green shit).

CLBF: Oh, funniest thing. So (recounts grocery store interaction with TGGSCG) but, get this; it’s flat leaf parsley. Can’t even use it.

Erin: Are you out of your mind? You can put parsley on anything.

~

And so it was that we enjoyed cilantro-free chilaquiles, con parsley. And here’s what I’m thinking. While it’s obvious that Chilaquiles Set 1 was a product of divine providence I’m going to go ahead and argue that Chilaquiles Set 2 was also a product of such divine providence. To clarify, Cilantro-Loving Birthday Friend is a pretty decent cook, knows her way around the kitchen and the produce section if you know what I’m saying. For her to mix-up the two admittedly similar-looking herbs is just too unbelievable.

I’m left with only one possible conclusion to draw: God wants me to enjoy chilaquiles (which are super delicious) and God hates cilantro! More on this later.

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I love Mark Bittman (of the New York Times Dining Section) for insisting, relentlessly, to be such an elitist foodie prick; he embodies the effete New Yorker cliche so well, it’s uncanny. If you aren’t familiar with his work (he’s written lots of cookbooks) or have only read his column (The Minimalist) I suggest you check him out in video form because only through this medium does his sincere I can’t help but make it clear I know I’m smarter than you-ness come through. I’m not being ironic or sarcastic, these are actually the reasons I can’t help but like the guy (he does seem to know what the hell he’s talking about and he makes quick meals — the obvious smart guy’s alternative to Rachael Ray — poor thing).

So I used to read his column every week and once in while I read his blog “Bitten,” (hey, even Shakespeare couldn’t resist a pun) but recently I’ve been watching his 3-5 minute videos instead, much to his indifferent chagrin no doubt. This week’s video is for St. Patrick’s Day (aka Monday for all you out there who seem to find it impossible to remember what is the same every year — March 17th guys — Erin go Braugh!). As Bittman introduces the segment, “In honor of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, I’ve decided to cook a Mexican dish, because it’s green.” Just about everything I love about the DB (and I don’t mean Daniel Boulud) is evident from that very first sentence. You kind of have to listen to it, but, trust me, it’s all in the delivery. The pregnant (I once posited that only men used pregnant as a non-literal adjective, so I guess I’m trying to prove myself wrong) pause between “Mexican dish” and “because it’s green,” is done with ironic perfection — that kind of perfect Monty Python beautiful clash between the low-brow ridiculously absurd and the higher-brow intellectually germane — right, ok Mark, sure, and you know what else is green? Marijuana. I’m just saying.

Since the whole dish is about being green and apparently Mexico’s cuisine is also about being green, it shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise that cilantro is but one of many green ingredients. There’s the tomatillos and pepitas, the marjoram (love marjoram, love it) and poblanos, the lime and serrano. So of course, being Mexican and all, and green and all, there’s the cilantro too. Once the chicken has finished cooking in the sauce of tomatillo and garlic and peppers and pepitas and so on (Mark calls them pumpkin seeds, “well actually squash seeds” dismissively. If you watch the video you’ll note the characteristic crotchetiness in the delivery) he questions “That green enough for you? Wait! Some ciiiilantro…” and proceeds to top the dish with various other herbs and green things. He says cilantro with the affect of an American ex pat living in a Spanish speaking country (and maybe he lived in Mexico for 15 years, I really don’t know) — he really gets cilantro, cilantro is Mark Bittman’s homeboy.


My gripe du jour is two-fold. 1) I understand the desire to play off the green rather than decidedly Irish cultural aspects of St. Patrick’s Day, I really do, but for God’s sake my fucking name is Erin, I got Irish heritage, leave cilantro out of a holiday we all really know is not about food but too-much drinking. 2) It seems to me cilantro is becoming an almost de facto green addition to things. Now, I’m not saying it isn’t at home in Bittman’s dish, (although I don’t think even he would argue it’d be fine without it, just add a little more parsley) but in his delivery he makes an I’m sure accidental point, a point only a cilantro hater might notice: not green enough? add some cilantro! For Christ’s sake, if it’s green you’re looking for add some parsley or chives, inoffensive flavors that, sure, have flavor, but it’s, you know, neutral-ish. When you add cilantro you’re not just adding green, you’re adding gross.

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I have dinner plans with some former food people (as in people who “work in food” as opposed to people who are yuppie, amateur food enthusiasts or “foodies” as they’re so often called/call themselves — I’m not disparaging these people (I love yuppies as much as the next guy) just making a distinction) coworkers tonight at a French Moroccan place, and as much as I’m looking forward to the housemade merguez (love merguez, love it) I’m in a high state of cilantro alert as I anticipate the meal.


I’ve already had some too close for comfort encounters this week. Wednesday I went to an Italian steakhouse and while the steaks were safely cilantro free, they could have used some salt. Then we went to our favorite bistro on Thursday and the French onion soup/frisee salad with poached egg and lardon/profiterole trinity is failsafe — cilantro there would be French blasphemy of the highest order. But then Friday I went with a friend to a Cuban restaurant (thank you restaurant for seating us right next to the live entertainment, thank you) and when the empanadas arrived with a vinegary green dipping sauce I knew, didn’t think but knew, I was in trouble. I took a quick empanada dip in the sauce to make sure and even my not-as-into-food-but-starting-to-be-into-food friend confirmed (what I of course did not need confirmed) that the sauce was absolutely cilantro to the core.

What came next was a difficult conversation. I speak some Spanish, certainly enough to say “No me gusta cilantro. Otra salsa por favor,” or what have you, but see there was this live entertainment directly to our left and if you’ve ever eaten in a New York restaurant of a popular variety (the line the wall with 2-top banquets and cram them impossibly close together variety) then you can imagine just how this situation is not conducive to communicating with a waiter who, eager as he is to understand is just not hearing let alone understanding what I’m trying to say in English or Spanish. Well, finally somehow I did get the message across, but then I’m left waiting for my new sauce to arrive as my toasty hot empanada becomes less hot and less delicious — such is the plight of the cilantro hater.

But eventually the new (something roasted tomato based) sauce did arrive and the empanada was good enough and everything was fine. I mean the rest of the meal wasn’t great (overcooked lobster tail, not ok) but it was fine and we were drinking sangria heavily so obviously we were happy anyway. But the point is, I can see a similar situation panning out tonight in which a surprise cilantro attack comes to pass and I’m left waiting to enjoy something delicious while something cilantro free gets made. I know what you’re thinking, just ask for no cilantro from the beginning. Sure, but that can be difficult in some restaurants, especially when there’s a language barrier and you don’t want to have a confusing 5-minute conversation if you can just order things that probably won’t have cilantro anyway. So for instance I’m probably ok with my merguez, but what of the pastilla or various cous cous dishes I might want? What when the group of 8 or so wants to share appetizers? Will I be the wet blanket of the evening?

Maybe this is why I like going to bistros so much. It’s like going to Cheers, except instead of everyone knowing your name you know the menu, er, something like that. But sometimes you want something more interesting than a hanger steak medium rare with frites. Sometimes you want merguez and in that case, the high state of cilantro alert that comes with it is usually worth it; it isn’t the cilantro-free status that makes a cuisine good after all (I love myself some green coconut curry sans cilantro), it’s the presence of so many other delicious things that makes it stand out. Indeed lots of things don’t have cilantro that also don’t have flavor — water comes to mind. So, it is with a high state of alert but an adventurous and hungry palate that I bravely enter my Moroccan dinner.

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